Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

In developing countries, 90 per cent of children living with a disability are excluded from education, which means they have little chance of escaping poverty. For Imran, the gift of a wheelchair has been life-changing.

Throughout his childhood, 13-year-old Imran would watch other children in his village run and play. He wished he could join them, but his condition made it impossible. “I wasn’t able to do things without help from others. I used to feel very sad,” he says.

Imran is unable to walk or use his hands. Prior to receiving a wheelchair, getting to school was an enormous challenge and often left him too tired to keep up during lessons.

With ChildFund Sri Lanka providing Imran with a wheelchair, his lifestyle has been transformed. Not only can he now attend school, but Imran has a newfound sense of independence, and can socialise more easily with his peers.

“I really like my wheelchair, actually I love it. Because of the wheelchair I’m now able to do things more easily than before. I can go for a bath. I can even go to see the beautiful places in the village. I can do most of my things by myself.”

With ChildFund’s support, Imran attends a special needs school. Here, children are taught vocational skills, in addition to reading or writing skills, depending on their abilities.

“I had two dreams for a long time, one was to repair our broken-down house, the other was to have a wheelchair. One of my dreams is now real,” he says.

While thankful for his own wheelchair, Imran is conscious that many more children are in need of the same support. He explains: “It has made life easier for me. I hope that other children like me, who have difficulties walking, will be able to receive a wheelchair.”

A year after the launch of ChildFund India`s Books, My Friends campaign, we are now able to see what a positive impact the program has made on the lives of children who have been given their first opportunity to own books and read for pleasure.

In 2014, ChildFund India and its campaign partner, Macmillan Education, conducted a baseline assessment of 1,200 children across 15 Indian states, to examine the nations reading abilities.

The analysis showed that although reading ability improved with age, there were still far too many children who were unable to read. In the group of 6- to 8-year-olds tested, 66.2 percent were not able to read at all, while 44.8 percent of 11- and 12-year-olds and 29 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds were illiterate. Geography plays a significant role, with higher literacy rates in the states of Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while Rajasthan, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh had lower rates.

With the vision of inspiring children to become lifelong readers, the Books, My Friends program, has provided around 40,000 children with reading bags filled with age-appropriate books since December of last year.

Pooja, 14, who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh, was able to read at the level of an 8- or 9-year-old when she received her books in late 2014.

“I wasn`t sure if I`d be able to read these books,” she says. She also spent most of her time either studying or attending classes, so Pooja preferred to stay away from books during her leisure time.

But because some of the books she received were in her local language, Telugu, they struck her interest. Soon, she was enjoying them, and she moved on to the other books in her bag, which were in English. That presented an obstacle, since English is harder for Pooja to read.

With a smile on her face, Pooja says, “My school coordinator has helped me a lot in improving my English reading ability. She would patiently sit with me, make me read these story books and correct me whenever I went wrong. And as soon as I started understanding the stories, I started enjoying them and wanted to read more.”

As a result, Pooja has joined a group of other students who meet up to discuss their books.

“This campaign has really helped me make new friends,” she says. “All the students who have received these books have formed a group, and on weekends, all of us sit together to read the books and then we enjoy chatting with each other. The illustrations in these books make the reading even more interesting. I`m really grateful to ChildFund for giving me these books. Because of this campaign, I`ve made this extra effort to read, and today I can read an entire sentence in English without faltering.”

The Books, My Friends initiative hopes to reach 115 000 underserved children over three years, and by creating a supportive learning environment and braking down the barriers to literacy, ChildFund India hopes to help children read with joy and encourage them to go beyond their textbooks and discover the exciting world of reading.